HarperCollins Design Studio

Mark is Head of Design at HarperCollins Publishers ANZ, where he runs the award-winning HarperCollins Design Studio. Over the past fifteen years he has worked in design and project management across theatre, film, television, events, animation and publishing, on productions like Alien: Covenant, Wolverine and The Pacific, and for companies like Bazmark Inq., Animal Logic, Hardie Grant Books and Bangarra Dance Theatre. Mark has also been a guest speaker for UTS, RMIT, AGDA, the Emerging Writer's Festival and the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, and is a past President of the Australian Book Designers Association (ABDA). He is also one of the amazing names on this Year's speaker line up for  Adobe MAX that is happening next week. We had the pleasure to chat with him this week!

Any hilarious stories about you as a kid being creative?

I only rediscovered this recently (and posted in on my Instagram account), but I used to design A LOT of book covers as a kid, in both primary school and high school. None of it was required for the assignment/project, of course, but I did them anyway because I LOVED making them. There was A LOT of pencil smudgings, 3D type and, most interestingly, diverse characters from multicultural backgrounds – I was clearly ahead of my time.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I didn’t take the usual route of a graphic designer in that my design degree was in theatre, tv and film design at NIDA in Sydney. But it DID teach me an enormous amount about creativity and conceptualization/ideation that can be applied almost anywhere/anyhow, so I’m firm of the belief that you just need that solid foundation to be a successful creative. It doesn’t matter the actual degree or school you go to, but whether you had great teachers who were able to open your mind and your world. That’s actually what matters in the end.

When I left Uni I had a real variety of jobs: worked as a design assistant in the ceremonies department of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, then for Baz Luhrmann’s company on a variety of film projects and I even did a stint as a character concept artist at Animal Logic on their owl film, a job that taught me a lot by putting me hugely out of my comfort zone.

What are some of the best and worse parts of your job, day-to-day.

THE ENDLESS VIRTUAL MEETINGS. I thought they were bad IRL in the office, but now I spend 10 hours a day glued to Microsoft Teams. I hope to find a happy balance once we return in some way. The best part of my day is being surprised and delighted by the incredible work from my team, and from the other freelancers, we work with.

What are your three must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?

I’m of the belief that the best designers aren’t those that religiously follow ONLY design-related things – being a truly GREAT designer means existing in the world at large, so you need the widest set of references to draw upon at any moment. I follow a lot of creatives on Instagram, as I think that platform works well for that, but I listen to mostly food and culture podcasts – I am newly obsessed with Home Cooking, the new lockdown foodcast from Samin Nosrat of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat fame, mostly because I love the way she says ‘delicious’ and ‘so good’ ALL THE TIME. It’s very comforting in these anxious times.

What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Someone once told me it is important, to be honest and frank in an interview – tell people your dreams, etc. Otherwise, they’ll never be able to do anything about it. I also love, and live by, that famous Shirley Chisolm (the first black woman to run for US President) statement as I think it’s GOLD for anyone who has ever been ‘othered’ in their lives: ‘If they don’t offer you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.’ My folding chair is always with me.

Is this your first Adobe Max as a speaker?


Will this be your first time at Adobe Max? Have you ever been involved before either as a speaker or attendee? What was your experience like?

I’ve not attended before either, so definitely my first time being involved in general. But I have heard about Adobe Max before – have had friends and colleagues who have either presented or attended. It seemed that there were a few more technical curveballs this year, what with the virtual presenting/recording process, but the Adobe team were always on hand and super helpful. I can’t wait– hopefully, I’m not mortified by the sound of my own voice or my presentation face.

2020 has been a crazy year, and with all live events and experiences being cancelled how important and valuable do you think initiatives like Adobe Max going all digital and free for the creative community nowadays are??

What a weird time in the world, right??? I think everyone is craving ANY kind of normality and connection that we can hold on to, so holding the conference virtually allows global creatives that opportunity to see and hear from their peers and know they’re not alone out there. A lot of people – particularly those in the arts – are doing it tough, so these kind of things are critical for our creative, and mental, health. The fact that it’s free this year is a real gift.

Are you looking forward to your experience? Can you share a little bit of it with us? What can we expect? We are all very excited!

Haha! SURE – I just hope I don’t make a fool of myself. But, in all honesty, my co-presenter Astred Hicks and I put in A LOT of work preparing for our presentation so we’re pretty sure attendees will get A LOT out of it. Plus, we had a lot of fun so I think that will come through as well. We’re basically trying to de-mystify the creation of book covers, as it can sometimes seem like a dark art involving a very small pool of people around the world. We’ll be looking at all sorts of considerations like the creative process, audience, authors and markets, as well as who is involved along the way. There’s plenty of case studies and examples too – it’s slick AF.

What do you think the design community could do more to give back?

I think more free events and cheaper memberships to associations would go a long way – designers don’t earn a lot of money so it’s CRAZY to ask them to pay hundreds of dollars to be a part of something for just kudos or to pay a board member, etc. It’s not very egalitarian. I also think we need more diversity (women, first nations, POC, LGBTQI+) holding positions of power and influence in the design industry to change conversations and empower those who haven’t had a voice before. Industries should reflect the way society looks and I’m not sure we do a good job of that at the moment. I think it’s the activist in me that comes out for causes like this.

Where to find more about Mark

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